Summary: Corporal punishment increases the risk of developing anxiety and depression in adolescents, researchers report. Additionally, corporal punishment alters brain activity and impacts brain development.
Don’t spank your children. It’s the conventional wisdom that has emerged from decades of research linking corporal punishment to poorer adolescent health and negative behavioral effects, including an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
Now, a new study explores how corporal punishment could impact neural systems to produce these harmful effects.
Corporal punishment can be simply defined as “the intentional infliction of physical pain by any means for the purpose of punishment, correction, discipline, instruction, or for any other reason”. This violence, especially when inflicted by a parent, evokes a complex emotional experience.
The researchers, led by Kreshnik Burani, MS, and working with Greg Hajcak, Ph.D., at Florida State University, wanted to understand the neural underpinnings of this experience and its downstream consequences.
The study appears in Biological psychiatry: cognitive neurosciences and neuroimaging.
Researchers conducted a longitudinal study of 149 boys and girls ages 11 to 14 from the Tallahassee, Florida area. Participants performed a video game-like task and money guessing game while undergoing continuously recorded electroencephalography, or EEG, a noninvasive technique for measuring brain wave activity of the scalp.
From the EEG data, the researchers determined two scores for each participant, one reflecting their neural response to error and the other reflecting their neural response to reward.
Two years later, the participants and their parents completed a series of questionnaires to screen for anxiety and depression and to assess parenting style. As expected, children who had experienced corporal punishment were more likely to develop anxiety and depression.
“Our article first reproduces the well-known negative effect that corporal punishment has on a child’s well-being: we found that corporal punishment is associated with increased anxiety and depressive symptoms at ‘adolescence. However, our study goes further to demonstrate that corporal punishment could impact brain activity and neurological development,” Burani said.
This was reflected in a greater neural response to error and a blunted response to reward in adolescents who received physical punishment.
“Specifically,” Burani added, “our paper links corporal punishment to increased neural sensitivity to make mistakes and reduced neural sensitivity to receiving rewards in adolescence.
In previous and ongoing work with Dr. Hajcak, we find that an increased neural response to errors is associated with anxiety and anxiety risk, while a reduced neural response to rewards is linked to depression and at risk of depression.
Corporal punishment may therefore alter specific neurodevelopmental pathways that increase the risk of anxiety and depression by making children hypersensitive to their own mistakes and less responsive to rewards and other positive events in their environment.
Cameron Carter, MD, editor of Biological psychiatry: cognitive neurosciences and neuroimagingsaid of the findings, “Using EEG, this study provides new insights into the mechanisms that may underlie the adverse effects of corporal punishment on children’s mental health as well as the neural systems that may be affected. .”
The work provides new clues to the neural underpinnings of depression and anxiety and could help guide interventions with at-risk youth.
About this neurodevelopment research news
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“Corporal punishment is uniquely associated with greater neural response to errors and blunted neural response to rewards in adolescence” by Kreshnik Burani et al. Biological psychiatry: cognitive neurosciences and neuroimaging
Corporal punishment is uniquely associated with greater neural response to errors and blunted neural response to rewards in adolescence
Although corporal punishment is a common form of punishment with known negative health and behavioral effects, how corporal punishment affects neurocognitive systems is relatively unknown.
To address this issue, we examined how corporal punishment affects neural measures of error processing and rewards in 149 adolescent boys and girls aged 11 to 14 (Mage = 11.02, South Dakotaage = 1.16). Lifetime corporal punishment was assessed using the Stress and Adversity Inventory (STRAIN). Additionally, participants performed a flankers task and a reward task to measure error-related negativity (ERN) and reward positivity (RewP), respectively, as well as measures of anxiety and symptoms. depressed.
According to the hypothesis, participants who experienced lifelong corporal punishment reported more anxiety and depressive symptoms. Experiencing corporal punishment was also linked to greater ERN and blunted RewP. Importantly, corporal punishment was independently related to greater ERN and more blunted RewP beyond the impact of harsh parenting and life stressors.
Corporal punishment appears to potentiate the neural response to errors and decrease the neural response to rewards, which may increase the risk of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
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